Friday, August 2, 2019

Going viral is over-rated

I won’t lie to you.  If one of my videos went viral, I’d be excited.  It would definitely be cool to see the “views” tick up into the millions… or even the thousands. 

But here’s the thing.  I wouldn’t expect that avalanche of views to translate into an avalanche of customers.

And if you’re marketing a B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, neither should you.

Marketing B2B SaaS solutions is a journey

Here’s the hard truth:  marketing a B2B SaaS solution isn’t easy or quick.  There’s a tortuous journey from a “view” to a “buy.”

After you’ve piqued their interest with a clever video, then you’ve got to walk the prospective customer through several more steps.  Perhaps you invite them to a webinar, offer a white paper, show them a live demo, or entice them into a free trial.

At some point, if all goes well, you’ll get an opportunity to prepare a proposal and eventually win a paying customer.

The point is this journey takes time.  Remember that the folks you’re marketing to usually aren’t spending every waking hour evaluating your solution.  They have other priorities that get in the way.  (See  “Sometimes Prospects Just Aren’t Ready to Buy.”) 

B2B SaaS solutions aren’t an impulse buy

Of course, there are things you can do to convert more leads into qualified opportunities and paying customers and keep them from getting get stuck somewhere in the process.  And you can try to accelerate the process.  (Get in touch with me if you need help.)

But there’s really no way to skip the whole journey, hopping directly from “view” to paying customer.  A B2B SaaS solution usually isn’t an impulse buy.

Don’t expect a viral video to work to short-cut the process. 

There’s no magic marketing tactic

And by the way, the same goes for any other marketing tactic.  No single email, webinar, trade show, or blog post will do the job either.  Not by itself. 

If you’re looking for the magic [fill in your favorite marketing tactic here], stop looking.  There’s no such thing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Are you giving up on your prospects too soon?

One of my clients told me a story that they’d just closed a large new deal with a prospect that’s been in their pipeline for a long time – as in 2 years’ long time.

And that’s not some crazy outlier.  They’re working other opportunities that have been in there for well over a year.

This is not how it’s supposed to go

In the ideal world, prospects step through a simple, straight-line process:

-  enter the pipeline as a lead
-  convert from a lead to a qualified opportunity
-  convert the opportunity into a “closed won” or “closed lost”
-  renew existing customers, critical for success of software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies.

And one of Marketing’s job is to speed up this process.

Of course, when I plot the real-life process with my clients – not the ideal-world process – I don’t come up with anything quite so simple.  Most prospects follow a more convoluted path and they start-and-start along the way. 

The pipeline isn’t a straight line.  It’s full of loops. 

A prospect searches on one of your paid adwords, comes to your website, signs up for a free trial, and spends time on your pricing page.  Or maybe they go even further and request a call with Sales.  (Of course, you’re conscientiously tracking this with your marketing automation system, assigning points to the prospect’s lead score all along the way.)

So, you escalate the lead and pass it over to the Sales team.

But then it all comes to a halt.  Six emails, three voice mail messages, and one LinkedIn request later, the sales person still hasn’t connected with the prospect.  The lead gets looped back to Marketing for further cultivation, and they may stay there for months before they show any renewed interest.

And that’s a simple version.  You’ve probably seen prospects that have gone through this loop from Marketing to Sales and back to Marketing two or three times before there’s a final disposition.

Why is it so complicated?

Sometimes prospects don’t follow the straight and simple path just because they’re not really qualified.  No matter how carefully you design a marketing campaign, you’ll inevitably pull some bad leads into the pipeline.  It happens.

But lots of times your marketing campaign reaches precisely the right prospect, someone eminently qualified to buy your product… and they still go through this start-stop and Marketing-to-Sales-back to Marketing loop.

This is especially common when you’re marketing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution.  Remember that the prospect has a lot of other responsibilities besides evaluating your solution.  (See “Your prospect has a day job.”)  They may have been able to dedicate a chunk of time to an initial exploration, but then got distracted by other priorities.  They can’t carve out the time to work with your free trial, answer your emails, or get back to your voice mails.  

Keep prospects on the radar screen

Don’t give up on these prospects.  Over time, some number of them will re-engage.  The reason they initially looked for you will bubble back up on their list of high-priorities.  You can even try to turn up the urgency for them.  (See “Why your prospects are ignoring you.”)   

Find a cost-effective way to stay in front of them.  I’ve seen newsletters, tips, or other helpful advice that goes out on regularly work well.  You should provide an easy way for the prospect to indicate that they are ready to re-engage, though it’s best to avoid a constant harangue of “please, please, please return my phone calls.” 

Some prospects will move faster than others.  But when they are ready to move ahead, you want to be there.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tell your creation story

SaaS companies need to tell their creation story.  Not because they’re storytellers, but because It can help them acquire customers.

Yes, I know this notion of a creation story might sound like something from ancient mythology.  But there are plenty of examples of compelling creation stories from recent tech history:

  • Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard inventing the audio oscillator in a Palo Alto garage.
  • Bill Gates and Paul Allen writing MS-DOS for the IBM PC.
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak building their first personal computer for the Homebrew Computing Club. 

For a few years, I worked at IDC where everyone knew the story of Pat McGovern’s founding his company in a small gray house in Newton, MA.

What’s in the story?

There’s usually nothing too complicated about the creation story.  It explains two essential things about the company and the solution:  Who built it and why?

The most effective creation stories talk about the background of the founder(s), how they came to know about the market they’re selling into, what problem they saw and set out to solve, and why they thought they could build something better than other solutions.

These stories might also spell out core principles that guide how they treat customers, employees, and other stakeholders.  Google, for example, included “Don’t be evil” among its principles until it later dropped that line. 

The more ambitious stories articulate a “mission.”  Microsoft talked about a goal to put “a computer on every desk in every home,” though that too has morphed over time.

Here’s what creation stories are NOT about: the products and how they work.  Instead they’re about the people and the thinking behind those products.

Why does this matter to SaaS companies?

I know, marketers have plenty of work on their plates already without adding “tell the creation story” to the list.

Of course, companies can get along without telling their creation story.  They can confine themselves to cranking out the standard array of white papers, brochures, and other marketing material.

But creation stories can help attract new customers. And that’s especially true for companies selling software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. 

For one, the people buying solutions are often the same people that will be using the solution.  It’s the HR professional using the HR solution, the marketing manager using the marketing automation solution, or the sales manager using the CRM solution. 

These prospective customers want to know if the people that have built the solution really understand their challenges.  Do they actually know what their world is like?

Second, the prospects need to trust the company.  Remember with a SaaS solution, they’re buying a promise, not a product.  The customer needs to know that the SaaS provider will deliver the functionality and support as promised.  A creation story can help build that trust.  (See “SaaS Marketing is about promises, not products.”)

If you’re a SaaS marketer, I understand the urge to talk all about your solution’s features, benefits, and advantages.  But besides talking about what your product can do, you should also talk about who built it and why.